Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - LOYALTY

After having reconstructive knee surgery, I'm finally feeling up to writing again. I've come to find out extreme physical pain does NOT help the writing process!

Last time, I talked about KNOWLEDGE, so next up is LOYALTY. This trait's definition is, "... you are devoted to your country, the Corps, and to your seniors, peers, and subordinates. The motto of our Corps is Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful). You owe unwavering loyalty up and down the chain of command, to seniors, subordinates, and peers."

This is another trait with which I've had intimate negative experience, so perhaps this story will help illustrate the antithesis of LOYALTY.

When I was a very young sergeant (this was around 2001), I was stationed at MCRD Parris Island and was serving as the webmaster. I came up with the idea of creating a message board where parents of recruits could share their experiences and knowledge. I pitched the idea to the senior enlisted who, in turn, pitched the idea to our officer in charge. It was my understanding, he pitched the idea to depot's chief of staff and/or commanding general and got approval to move forward.

A few months later, drama developed on the message board which lead to a 7-month investigation into me creating the message board using a Marine Corps computer during working hours. See, the OIC never did pitch the project to the chief of staff or CG, and when they asked about it, the OIC threw me under the bus in an attempt (in his eyes) to save his career.

I've carried lessons from that experience with me through the subsequent years and am thankful for the lessons I learned.

As leaders, it's important that we show LOYALTY to those above us as well as those below us.

A hypothetical example will help illustrate. When a subordinate's work performance inexplicably drops, a good leader shows their LOYALTY by trying to figure out what's going on and what corrective actions need to be taken (if any), hopefully stopping the drop in its track, turning it around and getting that subordinate back on their feet.

Meanwhile, a bad leader allows that performance drop to continue unabated, which implies a degradation in performance is acceptable. Inevitably, that leader, having noted the degraded performance, rates the subordinate lower for poor performance on their next evaluation, which takes the subordinate by surprise since the leader allowed the behavior to continue without challenge until the evaluation.

This example highlights the importance of counseling in the leader/subordinate relationship in the Marine Corps, which requires leaders to counsel their subordinates at regular intervals. These counseling sessions, at a minimum, allow the leader to inform the subordinate about good and bad trends in performance and allows the subordinate to know exactly where they stand and make so-called small course corrections.

In the journey that is a career, small course corrections are much easier than trying to do the equivalent of turning an aircraft carrier on a dime.